The liberal journal The Nation has endorsed Barack Obama, proclaiming him the great hope of the progressive movement. The journal spares few superlatives in their praise, envisioning a golden age for their ideology. But after lauding Obama for his natural leadership (and for having the good sense to be of multi-racial and multi-national origin) they add this interesting passage:

However, the fact that Barack Obama openly defines himself as a centrist invites the formation of this progressive force within his coalition. Anything less could allow his eventual drift towards the right as the general election approaches. It was the industrial strikes and radical organizers in the 1930s who pushed Roosevelt to support the New Deal. It was the civil rights and student movements that brought about voting rights legislation under Lyndon Johnson and propelled Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy’s antiwar campaigns. It was the original Earth Day that led Richard Nixon to sign environmental laws. And it will be the Obama movement that will make it necessary and possible to end the war in Iraq, renew our economy with a populist emphasis, and confront the challenge of global warming.

We should not only keep the pressure on but also connect the issues that Barack Obama has made central to his campaign into an overarching progressive vision.

Got that? It’s not that Obama is a true-blue progressive, it’s that he’ll make an excellent host species for the progressive movement. Even the hardcore liberals aren’t sure exactly where Obama stands – but they’re smart enough to know he has the political savvy and rhetorical chops to move mountains. Who wouldn’t want that guy leading their army?

The Nation is wise to choose Obama. He is, I believe, far closer to the progressive side of things than he is to “the center” and a vocal effort by liberals could very well keep him from drifting right. Of course, it’s a whole other matter as to whether he can actually win the election running on The Nation’s preferred platform of Iraq retreat, economic populism, anti-NAFTA and anti-corporate demagoguery and global warming action. It’s certainly possible and if anyone can do it, Obama’s the man.

Centrist types who are currently backing Obama should watch all of this closely. He has an earnest desire to unite America but unless you think The Nation represents a unifying ideology, Obama won’t bring us together by keeping to the solid left. Policies matter. Assuming he gets the nomination, Obama will reveal a lot when chooses to drift or not drift right.

Politics Obama, Progressive Champion. Maybe.